Washington, D.C. – Aiming to end the use of so-called “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in federal court, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Congressman Joseph Kennedy III (MA-04) reintroduced the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act. “Gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault by arguing that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant’s violent reaction, blaming victims for the violence committed against them. The legislation would curtail the availability and effectiveness of the gay and trans panic defenses, a step that many in the legal community have been urging for years. Just over 20 years ago, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. One of Shepard’s killers raised the gay panic defense, arguing that Shepard’s unwanted sexual advances excused his violent acts.
“Claiming a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity justify murder or assault expressly tells entire segments of our society that their lives are not worthy of protection,” said Congressman Kennedy. “As long as gay and trans panic defenses are allowed in our state and federal courts, the LGBTQ community will be deprived of the justice all Americans deserve. With four states already implementing bans, we have the federal momentum to outlaw this bigoted legal practice across the country.”
“Our courtrooms are supposed to be chambers of justice, not hate,” said Senator Markey. “So-called gay and trans panic legal defenses perpetuate bigotry and violence toward the LGBTQ community and should be banned. They corrode the legitimacy of federal prosecutions, and blame victims for the violence committed against them. All Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity in our justice system. I thank Congressman Kennedy for his partnership on this legislation. As we celebrate Pride Month with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I call on my colleagues to support this bill and relegate hateful practice of gay and trans panic defense to the history books.”
The Senate legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Min..), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Angus King (I-Maine). The House bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Brian Higgins (NY-26), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Robin Kelly (IL-02), Scott Peters (CA-52), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Barbara Lee (CA-13), TJ Cox (CA-21), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Linda Sanchez (CA-38), Charlie Crist (FL-13), Norma Torres (CA-35), Tony Cardenas (CA-29) and Chris Pappas (NH-01).
Last month Nevada became the fourth state to ban gay and trans panic defenses, joining California, Rhode Island and Illinois. Similar legislation has been introduced in New Jersey, Washington, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maine, Texas, New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.
The legislation is endorsed by the National LGBT Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Trevor Project, the Transgender Law Center, the American Unity Fund, National Trans Bar Association, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Trans United, Equality Federation Lists, MassEquality, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth, Equality California, Equality NY, Equality Ohio, Silver State Equality, LGBT Bar Association of Greater NY, One Colorado, EqualityMaine, URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, Sexuality and Education Council of the United States, LGBT Technology and Partnership Institute, Modern Military Association of America (LGBTQ veterans and service members), Fenway Health, the Fenway Institute, and Identity, Inc. Alaska.